What does this saying, "The apple never falls far from the tree," mean?


The adage “The apple never falls far from the tree” ordinarily is comparable to “Like father, like son” (or mother/daughter), ie, is used as a figurative way of saying that children inherit characteristics of their parents.

  • 3
    I have usually heard it spoken with a negative connotation, e.g. when the son of a thief is caught stealing. The implication is that the apple (son) can't fall far from the tree (his bad influences). Also: “chip off the old block” is related too. Oct 18 '13 at 1:56

The apple never falls far from the tree is a saying often used to underline a negative aspect and means:

  • A child grows up to be similar to its parents, both in behavior and in physical characteristics.

It was originally used to refer to family characteristics; its current connotation is from the early 20th century:

  • "Apparently of Eastern origin, it is frequently used to assert the continuity of family characteristics. Quot. 1839 implies return to one's original home. Cf. 16th century Ger. 'der Apfel fellt nicht gerne weit vom Baume,' the apple does not usually fall far from the tree." From "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs" by John Simpson and Jennifer Speake (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, Third Edition, 1998).

  • "Probably applied most often now to someone with obvious failings, the saying asserts the problem was simply passed along from parent to child. The notion is similar to the older 'Like father, like son,' and 'Like mother, like daughter,' and seems to have appeared first in German.

  • The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson apparently was the first to use it in English when in an 1839 letter, he wrote that 'the apple never falls far from the stem.' But here Emerson used it in another sense, to describe that tug that often brings us back to our childhood home. A century later, however, the saying appeared in its current form and connotation in 'Body, Boots, and Britches' by H. W. Thompson." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

  • The proverb also appears in Russian, according to "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996). Mr. Titelman lists a similar proverb: "It runs in the family.found in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play 'The School for Scandal' ."

(The Phrase Finder)

  • I cannot actually remember having ever heard or read this phrase in the UK (but I have heard 'like father, like sun' and 'a chip off the old block'). So I immediately thought of someone having translated a German text.
    – gnasher729
    May 13 '16 at 22:22

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